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  • Writer's pictureMichael Apollo Lira

"I just want to look at the train"

I love my father. I love my mother, too - both are wonderful people and I've truly been blessed with an incredible set of parents. Sometimes you don't realize how lucky you are until you discover just how un-lucky other people out there are. For a long time, I simply assumed that a good life was normal. Now I couldn't tell you if it's the exception or the rule.

One of the specialties of the ICU I work in is pediatric trauma. It's a broad term that comes with a lot of baggage.

On the surface, you have what I think of as the more generic forms of pediatric trauma:

  • Kidney lacerations from soccer injuries

  • Liver and splenic injuries from bicycle accidents

  • Falls - often from leaning on screen windows or jumping on a bed next to a window when the weather gets nice

  • Anything outdoors, activity, and sports related, really.

You flip that coin over, and you learn why your life is a good one

  • Abusive stepfathers

  • Botched suicides

  • Shaken baby syndrome

  • Intentional burns and scalds

  • Drunk/high parents driving with unrestrained kids

I've lived a damn good life.

I want to write something light-hearted and funny for this update, and I wanted to highlight my love for my dad with a story I love to tell about him. Sometimes when you sit down to write, the words and thoughts do the work before the intended story does. Maybe that's part of the magic of writing...I don't think I would change that, personally.

I suppose the purpose of what I've written so far is to contrast the good from the bad. In my eyes, my father isn't simply good - he's great. He's the best. He's exemplary.

This story takes place during his adolescent years. There were train tracks near where my dad lived, and on one particular afternoon my dad was near a tree, where a tire suspended by a rope was hanging. A child approached my dad that day and asked if my dad would spin him in the tire for a bit.

My father obliged the request, helped the kid park himself in the tire, and started spinning it to the child's delight. In the background, a train had started making its way along the nearby tracks. While I wasn't there, what I imagine is the hot summer air of Texas - dusty and dry. The minimal relief of whatever shade the tree provided in that arid spot. The metallic and tympanic rhythm of the train on the tracks. The sounds of a hand hitting hollowed tire rubber as my dad swatted at the swing to keep the child spinning. The abrasive sound of rope twisting against itself. And a train horn intermittently interrupting the contagious laughter of a gleeful and ecstatic child.

That paragraph obviously isn't written through the eyes of an adolescent boy. But it helps me immerse myself in what I imaged it to be like. In all honesty, my dad was probably just having a great time spinning the hell out of that tire - and probably trying to see how fast he could get it to spin. So much so, that he probably didn't notice that after a couple of minutes, the child wasn't really laughing as much or cheering him on like when he had first started. I don't know how long exactly this went on for, or for how long the kid now tolerated (instead of enjoyed) his free ride.

What did eventually happen, was the abrupt request on the child's part.

"Stop - stop! Stop, stop......I just want to look at the train..." he uttered.

My dad halted the tire.

The child, dazed and slumped in the tire, quietly watched the train through now glassy eyes. Neither spoke for the time. The silence was eventually broken, however, when the kid leaned forward from the tire and threw up.

Poor kid.

But that memory and especially that phrase stuck.

I just want to look at the train

Since first hearing that story, the phrase has become something of a household statement used by myself and my loved ones for when we need a break. It's like tapping out. When it's heard, it is generally met with grace, amusement, and time for recovery.

Sometimes life leaves us reeling and dazed, like that child. Sometimes we all need to just stop and look at the train for a little. And if you ever say that to me, I've got your back.

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